Prevent skin cancer while enjoying time outdoors
Protect your skin, eyes and immune system from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays not only during the summer but year round.
The American Cancer Society reports that skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health Senior Health website, the skin is the largest organ of the human body. Skin is comprised of two main layers…the outer layer, or epidermis, and the inner layer, or dermis. It is in the epidermis that most skin cancer occurs.
While there are several types of skin cancer, the three major kinds are basal and squamous cell (or non-melanoma) and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is less common but considered much more serious. Most skin cancers result from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun’s rays. In recent years, tanning booths and sun lamps, which also contain UV radiation, have become increasingly popular. In addition to taking precautions to minimize exposure to naturally occurring UV radiation from the sun, the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions against regular use of these artificial sources of UV radiation. They suggest those planning to be outside, check the current UV index, or UVI, for their area. This measurement provides the level of UV radiation and is often found in the weather forecast section of local newspapers, announced on television and radio weather broadcasts. In the U.S., the incidence of skin cancer is more prevalent where the sun’s UV rays are strongest, in southern states closer to the equator, and at higher altitudes, like mountain ranges. While residents of those areas need to be especially vigilant about their UV exposure, those in other regions of the country are also encouraged to take preventative steps to protect against negative effects of the sun’s UV rays.
There are several recommended actions you can take while enjoying time outdoors to decrease your skin cancer risk. As the sun’s rays are strongest from mid-morning to late afternoon, experts suggest avoiding lengthy exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Before going outdoors, make sure to apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that contains both UVA and UVB protection. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you venture outdoors and make sure you thoroughly cover your lips, ears, back of the neck, hands and feet. If wearing especially light clothing, you are also advised to put sunscreen on under your clothing. Re-apply sunscreen after swimming or sweating heavily as well as every two hours if outdoors for a lengthy period of time. Even on cloudy days, it is important to apply sunscreen as clouds do not stop UV rays. Not only are these potentially damaging rays reflected on sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement, they can get through windshields and windows.
The American Cancer Society has a slogan, Slip!, Slop! Slap, and Wrap!, to reminds us of the four simple ways to decrease skin cancer risk….slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses will not only protect your neck and face from UV rays; they are also good protection for your eyes. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports UV rays can damage your eyes in a number of ways and may result in later developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. The WHO also cites studies that demonstrate one’s immune system can be negatively affected by UV exposure.
Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is highest for certain groups of people. Being fair-skinned, having freckles, blond or red hair, blue or green eyes increases your risk for skin cancer. Your risk for developing melanoma is also heightened if you have unusual moles, more than 50 moles, a family history of melanoma or if you previously have been diagnosed with basal, squamous or melanoma cancer.
If you have experienced at least one severe, blistering sun burn in the past, even if you usually tan well, your skin cancer risk is higher. Total lifetime sun exposure, both during childhood and adulthood, is considered when determining your skin cancer risk.
Certain medical conditions or medication can make one’s skin more sensitive to sun and thus increase your risk for skin cancer. Similarly, your skin cancer risk increases if you have a medical condition or take medications that suppress your immune system.
Regularly checking your skin from head to toe is advised. Use mirrors to view hard to see areas and have a relative or friend check your scalp. Look for new moles, changes in existing ones, and sores that do not heal. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a downloadable body map to assist you in making regular examinations.
For more information about how to maintain good health, eat nutritious food, and engage in regular physical activity, visit the Michigan State University Extension website. In addition to reviewing posted articles on a wide variety of topics, you can search their online bookstore, contact one of their experts or post a question for experts located at Extension universities across the country.